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Thousands seek refuge in Uganda

Woman using machete to cut sticks down to size
Woman using machete to cut sticks down to size
August 14, 2012

Nearly 20,000 refugees who have fled unrest across the border in the North Kivu region of Republic of Congo are now sheltering in Rwamwanja settlement in southwest Uganda. Many of the refugees are unaccompanied children forced to leave their schools in the middle of term.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 33,500 people have also been registered at a transit center 12 miles from the Congolese border.

An additional 850 refugees from the Nyakabande camp were also expected to arrive last week at Rwamwanja, which has now stretching over 12 miles housing 836 households.

Bahati, 15, arrived at Rwamwanja unaccompanied, having initially fled to Nyakabande. Running from the rebels, he became separated from his parents.

Bahati says: “Back home, we were digging with my relatives when we heard gunshots and decided to run back home. On our way home we met other people running who told us to follow them for safety. We found ourselves at Nyakabande border, where we were brought to this camp.”

While at Nyakabande, Bahati says he could not trace either his mother or his father.

He explains: “I’d written down my mother’s mobile number and with the help of UNHCR, we called my mother. It turned out that she has gone back to Congo, together with all my brothers and sisters.”

Since May, intermittent fighting between government forces and the rebel M23 group has led to waves of people fleeing into Uganda.

According to UN figures, more than 220,000 have been displaced in North Kivu since April. Plan Uganda says children’s educational needs are not currently being met at the camps, due to a lack of resources and French teachers.

Rendi, 11, is the youngest of 28 unaccompanied children living in one tent at Rwamwanja. He says he was told that if the rebels found him, they would take him with them to fight.

He explains: “We heard gun shots and while running back home I realized my father and mother were missing. I decided to run with the bigger group and we ended at Nyakabande reception center.”

Resources are stretched in the camps. Rwamwanja has only one health center served by one ambulance and there are very limited safe water resources.

Eight boreholes serve the settlement, with an average of 2400 people using each borehole. Humanitarian agencies are working with the Ugandan government to address the crisis.

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